Monday, 31 January 2011

Bottling it...

Four Fiddlers
 So, Andy bottled it, well I don't think he did, tired legs more likely but no doubt the press will give him a hard time; according to the Sunday Times Elton's going to be Dad so I infer that little Zachary will need a hairpiece & thick specs before long. A bitterly cold day at the "Jed" point-to-point yesterday, our 3 runners were 2nd, 3rd & 4th, they all ran well but we could do with a winner, Lucy took a heavy fall when riding Aggies Lad in the Ladies for the Hamiltons, went through the wing at the last when holding a 5l advantage, I withdrew her horse Amulree in the maiden, all rather traumatic. Today we run Forcefield in the 1.45 at Ayr, 18 run, Lucy rides - it looks a good race and he will come on for the experience, Four Fiddlers goes in the 4.30, 11 run and Lucy rides, he should have an each way chance at a decent price.


Saturday, 29 January 2011

Touch and go

It will be a close shave as to whether we manage to race tomorrow at Kelso, frosts last night were sharper than anticipated and they wouldn't have raced today, we'll be up and ready to go if its on so fingers crossed. We plan to run Commercial Express, Noir et Vert, Amulree and possibly Skipping Chapel, the latter schooled this morning with Commercial Express, the rest of them worked on the all-weather as the grass was a bit frosty and Twelve Paces, Buffalo Ballet and our un-named Terimon 5yo went to Lucinda's.  We will all be routing for Andy tomorrow, it would be nice to see him smile!
Skipping Chapel

Friday, 28 January 2011

this pub aint big enough for the both of us

hmm, Sparks 1974, or was it "town" not pub, never mind, the gauntlet has been thrown down, Mrs A and her friends have decided to meet up in our pub tonight at exactly the same day and time that we (men) normally go there.  What do we do?  We can't go there, we wouldn't be able to hear ourselves think let alone talk and there wouldn't be room anyway, admit defeat and head elsewhere? surely not... I'm familiar with the problems that some of our eminent Clubs are having with the Equality Act but I'm not sure they have had to deal with anything as confrontational as this, bet they drink white wine as well, not even pints, I have offered to lay on some considerably superior fare here but to no avail......... we'll just have to get there first, or we could let all their tyres down (but we'll end up having to blow them up again - might be worth it)... oh dear.  I think it's a revenge act for me giving her a hard time for once again leaving her rather valuable binoculars in the Ladies loo at the point-to-point, it's just that I feel that the Clerks of the Courses probably have better things to do on Monday mornings than follow what is now becoming the rather regular ritual of searching the loos for Mrs A's bins (better move on, I'm just trying to put some content together for my application to join, actually, Mrs A of course is the rock upon which my life is built & I must stop being frivolous in case she slips something unpleasant into tonight's salmon and asparagus lasagne, that's if she remembers to put it in the oven - oops, no, that will now be my job I suppose..... anyway, just hearing rumours of a compromise, they're going to sit outside or something...)
Right, sorry about that, a fine start to the point-to-pointing season last weekend with Noir et Vert and Skipping Chapel running well prior to tiring and Amulree putting up a career best effort to finish second, most encouraging considering their disrupted training, the West Percy was well-supported and produced excellent competitive racing. No runners under rules this week but we've had a highly productive time here being able to use all the facilities properly for the first time in ages, the horses have all done loads of work on grass, we've had three schooling sessions over hurdles and fences and half a dozen have been away to work at Lucinda's. More work planned for tomorrow and then on Sunday weather permitting it will be off to the Jedforest point-to-point near Kelso where we hope to have three or four runners. Ideally we will then go to Ayr on Monday where we intend to run Forcefield and Four Fiddlers for the Earley Macdonald partnership and Northern Flame for the Peglegs, ballots to be negotiated first but they also have entries at Newcastle on Wednesday where we might run Native Coll and Seeking Power as well, going is good at Ayr and very soft at Newcastle, hopefully somewhere in between at Kelso... so, busy time, let's hope the weather behaves, we have glorious spring-like conditions today.... 

Noir et Vert (Jamie)

Noir et Vert, Buffalo Ballet & Twelve Paces head down

Buffalo Ballet (Lucy)

and stretching out...

Un-named Alflora 4yo (Emma) looks on

Playing Footsie (Gemma)

Thursday, 27 January 2011


It still seems a bit of a novelty to be able to actually do what we want and need to do with the horses after all that awful weather, it's a much more satisfactory state of affairs and makes the job much more enjoyable; conditions have been most benign for the time of year and although we may see a little bit of frost from time to time the long range forecast isn't bad at all (TOUCH WOOD!).
Amulree at the West Percy Point-to-Point
Today most of the horses did long steady canters on the BGF (aka "big grass field"!), they can go for a couple of miles round here and they seem to love it particularly as there a couple of hundred sheep running around to entertain them.  Apart from that this morning Almost Blue and Amulree schooled over fences and Peter came in this afternoon to school Daasij and Isla Patriot over hurdles, they were led by Lucy on Forcefield and Northern Flame.  Peter also jumped a couple of other un-named youngsters in the school.  I prefer to do most of our schooling in the afternooon, the horses have already had an hours exercise in the morning so they are more settled and we are under no time pressure so can give each of them as much time as is necessary. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Good progress this week so far with the horses working mostly on the grass which is in good shape, in addition to that yesterday Almost Blue, Commercial Express and Daasij worked on Lucinda's woodchip and today it was the turn of Northern Flame, Forcefield and Four Fiddlers.  They all seemed in good heart and will have benefited from a trip away on the lorry and some faster work in a different place.  Commercial Express & Almost Blue are scheduled to run on Sunday, entries for the Jedforest point-to-point are not strong so we might be tempted to bring out one or two of last weekend's runners as they seem none the worse for their exertions.  The three that went today are intended runners for Ayr on Monday. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

Good start

A thoroughly satisfactory start to the point-to-point season,  masses of horses from all over Northern England and Scotland produced large competitive fields with an excellent atmosphere; I was happy with all three of our runners, particularly considering they had only had one proper piece of work, Noir et Vert showed plenty of class in the Mens Open until fitness told and Jamie pulled him up quickly 3 out.  Skipping Chapel gave Kit a great spin in an 18 runner Maiden going well clear on the second circuit, sadly these early exertions meant he failed to stay the trip and he also pulled up 3 out.  Amulree was the star of the show finishing 2nd at long odds in the Restricted race, a most encouraging effort considering how much she should improve. 
Amulree exercises in the snow
A mixture of all-weather and grass today with Peter Buchanan coming in to do some schooling this afternoon.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Productive Morning

Bizarre weather conditions left the grass gallops frost bound but the schooling fences & all-weather were in perfect condition, the recent runners went for a long hack and tomorrow's runners all schooled over fences; the rest of them did plenty of work on the all-weather and I was particularly pleased with Commercial Express, Four Fiddlers and Daasij.  Conditons look good for tomorrow and the horses all schooled with plenty of enthusiasm.

Commercial Express with Kit at Hexham (2nd colours!)

Friday, 21 January 2011


Native Coll
Native Coll took a heavy fall six out at Newcastle on Wednesday whilst cruising along in second place, he had the leader & ultimate winner in his sights and looked sure to have played a part in the finish.  Frustrating but horse and rider in good shape apart from a few bruises. The frost is back, Kelso today is off and it's back onto the all-weather here.  Fortunately it drains rather better than the rest of our farm so it is very dry which makes it easy to rotovate and the surface is good, the horses have all had a week away from it working on grass and they seem fresh and well, the forecast is also encouraging and we should be back on the grass next week if not tomorrow, I also have 10 horses that I want to work on Lucinda's woodchip over the next week and with plenty to school over hurdles and fences we are in for a busy time.  Weather permitting that will start on Sunday at the West Percy point-to-point at Alnwick, we will be running 3 or 4 and it will very much be a family affair with Uncle Jamie, and children Lucy and Kit all in action. At this stage the most likely runners are Amulree, Skipping Chapel and Noir et Vert - needless to say all will be strongly fancied (!!) but they have been held up by the weather and are a fortnight short of full fitness.  Next runners "under rules" are scheduled for Ayr on Monday 31st.
Racecourse attendances for 2010 were reported yesterday and showed across the board increases, particularly in Scotland, which is most encouraging in the current climate.  The sport appears to be growing in popularity and yesterday afternoon I attended committee meetings for both Perth Racecourse and the Fife point-to-point, whilst cost pressures remain, both meetings were held with a real sense of optimism with plenty of apparent interest from potential new sponsors.  Fingers crossed things might just be turning round, if racing can harness (sic) the enthusiasm from the public and the corporate sector and combine that with sorting out its own funding then the future is very bright - fingers crossed on all fronts I think!  And if you haven't seen this sketch then I am sure it will make you chuckle....

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Ah well, isn't it nice to see those people at William Hill making so much money, £275m they are going to have made in 2010, have had to ask analysts if they don't mind revising their estimates upwards, most of the growth appears to have come from the fixed odds betting terminals in the shops - a bookies dream of course because  they can't lose, I just feel sorry for the poor punters being so systematically mugged, oh, and of course their offshore business is booming, it's racing that's been mugged there.  All seems a million miles away from the plight of the sport upon which they built their empire.... I closed my account with them many years ago when they refused to pay out on a legitimately placed wager with their rails representative at Ayr.. ho ho.
Off to Newcastle now, really looking forward to this horse running, let's hope all goes smoothly, back here Daasij, Northern Flame and Commercial Express all worked well on the grass, was delighted with all three, others cantered on the grass and those that worked yesterday had a well-earned day off hacking around the countryside.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

the simple pleasure..

Heading home after 2nd lot
.. of marking out a grass gallop and then working our horses on it has eluded me since late November; it was therefore a delight this morning to be able to work on the grass again and Forcefield, Four Fiddlers, Almost Blue and Buffalo Ballet amongst others all did some fast work.  Most of the others did steadier stuff on the grass and Sunday's intended runners (Amulree, Skipping Chapel and Noir et Vert) all went to work on Lucinda's woodchip which is also back in action after an enforced sabbatical.  Yesterday afternoon Peter Buchanan had been in to jump a few of the youngsters so life really felt almost back to normal - long may it last!
We run Native Coll in the 3.25 at Newcastle tomorrow, Lucy rides, 10 run and the ground will be deep and gluey. He takes on an easy course and distance winner from last week but he seems in particularly good heart and I am hoping for a big run, he fell at Ayr last time but Lucy has schooled him since and he jumped well so here's hoping!
Playing Footsie leads her big sister "Minimo" back down the grass gallop

Sunday, 16 January 2011

after the freeze..

Although half a dozen horses worked on the extremely wet all-weather yesterday I am conscious that most of them have done little else for the past few weeks, so they went for a hack in the forestry prior to some gentle cantering on the grass. It is important to keep them fresh and interested, it's been a tough time for the horses as well as the staff and I feel it would be easy to sicken them with too much strong work on the hill. 
Of course the extremely wet all-weather is now somewhat wetter follwing the best part of 50mm of rain in the past 48 hours, quite extraordinary and there are floods everywhere but at least it seems to be eradicating the last of the ice and snow - a fine, bright and breezy day now though.  Quite a busy Sunday morning doing a little schooling here and Lucy away schooling for a trainer in Northumberland, most of the horses had their usual Sunday hour on the walker.  We are set to ride out 20 horses tomorrow which I think is as busy as we've ever been, will probably find something wrong with one of them tonight so it might be back to 19 (or 18, 17....)
This week we plan to run Native Coll at Newcastle on Wednesday and we might run Forcefield in the replacement fixture at Kelso on Friday, then we are hoping the point-to-point season will kick off at Alnwick next Sunday where we hope to have 2 or 3 runners
Isla Pearl Fisher and Isla Patriot have both come out of their races at Musselburgh well, they will be ridden again tomorrow, some great pictures form John Grossick,
"Surf," Amy and Paddy

Friday, 14 January 2011

oh, sweetest of days...

The only tonic for a yard that has been battling with such atrocious conditions for eight weeks is a winner and we were cruelly robbed when Isla Pearl Fisher tipped up at the final fence last week at Ayr, but he made ammends in fine style today when running out the convincing winner of what had looked like a competitive handicap chase.  Although not really suited by the track and not looking the likely winner three out the complexion of the race changed quickly over the last two fences and he won by 5l with another 12l back to the third.  This was a good prize in the current climate and I was thrilled for the owner, Philippa Gammell, Paddy Aspell who was without a winner since he won on this horse in November, and most importantly for my team of dedicated staff who have put up with so much over the last two months.  Despite not having many runners at Musselburgh it has produced some good days for the yard and today ranks among the very best of them.
Next week we hope to be at Newcastle on Wednesday, Kelso have just announced a replacement fixture for Friday and hopefully the point-to-point season will kick off on Sunday 23rd.....

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Brothers

We have two runners at Musselburgh tomorrow, so long as the ground isn't too soft Isla Pearl Fisher will line up in the 3.20 for Mrs Gammell with Paddy Aspell on board; it's the feature race for a good prize and the Kilmany Cup (see below if you're bored...) - it looks very competitive but he goes there with every chance.  His little brother Isla Patriot then runs in the 3.50, 13 run and Paddy rides again, this is only his second appearance on the racecourse and it will be all about gaining some experience.
Isla Pearl Fisher enters the paddock at Kelso
Back here the thaw has gained momentum with the result that all the ice and snow on the gallop has turned to water with interesting consequences, the horses were on it again today, concentrating on sprinting on the bottom two furlongs, Lucinda put a good pic of her horses working on it on her website yesterday.. , I'm going to have to let it dry out for a few days now though but hopefully we will be able to do some work on the grass tomorrow - might be quite exciting as most of the horsses won't have been on grass for eight weeks, hold on tight!  This evening Mrs A has her Ladies Supper Party to which I am not invited so it will be off to Nando's for a hot sauce competition and if I survive that a trip to the cinema beckons...

PS -  I won the Kilmany Cupas an owner in 1989 when it was run at Perth with a horse called Golden Fancy trained by my Father, the horse had been runner up on the Tuesday of the Perth Festival and won on the Thursday... how old does that make me feel...eek!  The same horse had earlier won at Musselburgh at 20-1 when he was my first ever runner as an owner, I think he has a bit to answer for.....

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ho ho ho

Another inch of snow overnight on top of frozen ground but thaw accelerating today so optimism all-round.  Still very slippy conditions so horses confined to all-weather which improved as the morning went on (rotovated 4 times today!) - they went fairly steady on it but most of them were up 3 times and they seem fit and well.

Big row brewing over the Horsemen's minimum prize money that they are trying to impose on the racecourses, tricky situation but I don't have enough alternative opportunities for our horses to be able to start boycotting fixtures, my priority will always be to do the best thing for the horses and the owners who sponsor their careers however much it irritates me that the racecourses and bookmakers appear to be living off the owners.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Conditions just won't let up, an inch of wet slushy snow last night froze this morning to create dangerously slippy conditions, frantic salting required to allow the lorry down the drive to leave for Newcastle; back onto the tractor tonight after a hazardous journey home from the races - crashes everywhere, trunk routes closed because of black ice and not one active gritter spotted in a 360 mile round trip, welcome to the Socialist Republic of Scotland, or is "No Service please we're British...." Anyway, discard grumpy mode, Johnny's 13th birthday today and looking forward to celebration dinner this evening, and I was quite happy with Seeking Power's 4th, he jumped a bit sloppily to start with but improved as the race went on, being 18hh and over 600kg he is incredibly difficult to keep fit but he galloped to the line and as he hasn't had a really stiff piece of work since November this was a perfectly respectable effort and he should come on a lot for the run, hopefully I will be able to find something for him in a couple of weeks.  Kelso abandoned so on to Musselburgh on Friday where we hope to have one or two runners.  The thaw is on its way, it's proving agonisingly slow in arriving, better news from the Northumbrians re the first point-to-point, they are hoping the more open weather will allow the season to start on Sunday 23rs after all, fingers crossed!
Seeking Power

Monday, 10 January 2011


Some steady work on a slushy snow covered all-weather this morning, one trot and a couple of canters was all that was possible, at least it's melting, albeit slowly.
We run Seeking Power in the 2.10 at Newcastle tomorrow, 8 run, Lucy rides and he should have a good chance if the forecast rain arrives, if not then I suspect everything might happen a little quickly for him.  The meeting is subject to an 8am inspection and they are looking at 1pm to see if Kelso's Wednesday meeting can go ahead.
Seeking Power at Hexham in November

Sunday, 9 January 2011

well I never..

I can't believe it, "c'est incroyable," an expected light dusting of snow turned out to be four inches on Friday night & just about the same again last night, having almost seen the back of the stuff we have heaps of it everywhere again, were it not for a splendidly mild forecast I would be feeling quite glum.  Can't really understand why they had to close the airport again though ruining thousands of people's holiday plans etc, come on, four inches, it stopped just after midnight and they have to close it on a busy Saturday until mid-day, how can little old me keep my drive open with my little 40HP tractor and a 1.2m snowplough and they can't keep the runway clear, pathetic I say, asleep on the job.  Hmm, and I feed 30 plus horses first, I think I must just be more concerned about the negative consequences for me personally of my staff not being able to arrive at work at 8am than they are of cancelling and delaying dozens of flights... I suppose the man in charge of the airport probably just goes back to bed for the morning. (well I'm sure he doesn't but it does seem extraordinary). I bet they managed this morning though as the most important man in China was due to arrive in Edinburgh, don't think he would have thought much of them if he'd been diverted on account of a drop of snow.
Anyway, horses all three times up the all weather in deep fresh snow yesterday, on the walker today & goodness knows what tomorrow but they seem in good order and hopefully the weather will allow us to take up some of our engagements this week at Newcastle, Kelso and Musselburgh.  Belated stable night out in the pub last night, quite an eye opener, very entertaining, makes me feel a bit old though, nearly cranked up the snowplough on my return home, with hindsight very wise to have thought twice about that, would not have been a good move... 
Buffalo Ballet
Appears that the early point-to-point fixtures are under threat, conditions have prevented the organisers from preparing the courses, due to kick off two weeks today there is a sensible proposal being suggested that might involve the first Alnwick fixture moving back a week as Kelso look unlikely to be ready in time, we are all keen to get going and welcome as flexible an approach as possible.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Minus 6 this morning and still minus 3 this afternnon, all water bowls and taps frozen again but it's a dry cold and we were able to open up the all-weather this morning and all the horses (20 now!) exercised on it and in the school, we will work hard on the surface in the hope of giving most of them some serious work on it tomorrow. 

Forecast indicates a little snow turning to rain and milder temperatures early next week, let's hope it is correct as we have plenty of entries at Newcastle, Kelso and Musselburgh.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


it was Amulree, Commercial Express and Noir et Vert's turn to go to the beach; I wasn't there but they all came back in one piece.  Back here things have dried up a little so we are able to keep the latest frost out of the all-weather and all the other horses exercised on it and in the school; it seems to be just about the only gallop in the area that isn't frozen so we had a few visits from local trainers, I think about 35 horses in all were on the gallop, it felt a bit like Newmarket!
Grania the physio has also been in and has been going through most of the horses in scrupulous detail with Gillian, I try to tell her as little as possible in advance about my concerns and am amazed by how they pick up so many things that have been on my mind.
Entries now made for Kelso, need to see whether we have anything for Catterick next Thursday now..

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Back to the beach

Back to the beach today with Almost Blue, Skipping Chapel and Daasij, all fresh and well, particularly Skipping Chapel whose brakes appeared not to work with the result that he visited parts of the Eden estuary seldom visited by non-acquatic creatures...... full of beans afterwards though.  Most of the others worked on the all-weather which continues to improve and the Ayr runners went for a long hack up into the forestry.
Entered up now for Newcastle Tuesday and finalising entries for Kelso Wednesday, they think they have a chance of racing at both but will need the more favourable elements in the long term forecast to come to the fore, fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

At last..

.. we were racing again, Ayr managed to stage the first jump racing in Scotland since November and the going was on the soft side of good.  We ran Forcefield and Northern Flame on Sunday, the former was having his first outing over hurdles and as we hadn't managed to do as much schooling as we would have liked the principal object was to introduce him to jumping at racing pace, I was delighted with the way he jumped and though he was a little outpaced 5f out he galloped on strongly to the line, there should be plenty more to come.  Northern Flame ran with much more purpose than on his debut and put up a very encouraging effort over a trip that will prove well short of his optimum.  On Monday we ran Native Coll who didn't appear to handle the better ground and was niggled along when he slipped on landing after the 10th to give us our first faller since December 09, sadly we didn't have to wait as long for our next one as half an hour later Isla Pearl Fisher got in too tight and fell at the last fence having just taken up the lead, agonising, but all horses and jockeys are fine and at least we know the horses are still healthy and fit despite what the weather has thrown at us over the last six weeks.
Back here conditions are still tricky but 80% of the "all-weather" is in good order and most of the horses worked on it this morning, a few more beach parties are planned and hopefully the weather will continue to open up to allow us to use some of the other facilities here, all being well we will have our next runners at Newcastle on Tuesday but Kelso on Wednesday looks doubtful.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year..

Four Fiddlers, Seeking Power and Native Coll enjoy Hogmanay at St Andrews
 .. to everyone, may it be peaceful, happy and prosperous. Sadly the smoked lobster failed the sniff test and ended up in the bin but fresh supplies are promised from the Hebrides, think Mrs A might bave inadvertently fed it to the dog though judging by the New Year surprise it had for me this morning, ah the joys, of course we are in the midst of the usual New Year routine of preparing horses, kit, staff and logistics for racing at Ayr tomorrow which will most probably be cancelled as they are forecast minus 5 tonight, gives me something to do I suppose, who wants to laze around eating and drinking (me, actually - so I cram plenty of that in too!). Greatly heartened though by being able to use (most of) the gallop again and unbelievably we were able to school on grass this morning for the first time since the twenty somethingth of November; Isla Pearl Fisher popped over the fences and Forcefield and Northern Flame over the hurdles. The latter two are due to run at Ayr tomorrow, in the 12.20 and 12.50 respectively, Lucy rides the first and Paddy Aspell the second, maximum fields of course but who cares so long as we manage to race. On Monday Native Coll and either Isla Pearl Fisher or Seeking Power are due to run depending on conditions. On another subject, am I the only person on the planet that wants to chuck up when I read of what "Sir" Elton has been up to, I really can't bear it, at least it will be interesting trying to guess who the "donor" was as Zachary grows up, if he needs thick glasses and is wearing a toupe at the age of 3 then we'll know.....